Here’s Why You’re Waking Up Tired — Plus What To Do About It
Table of Contents
It happens to everyone. Even when you think you’re doing the right thing, like going to sleep at the right time for your chronotype, optimizing your sleep environment, and leveling up your sleep hygiene, you still wake up tired. Instead of waking up with the high energy levels you were counting on to start your day, you rise without shining, and wake feeling tired or exhausted.
We’ve all been there. Celebrations that run into the wee hours and losing a few zzz’s ahead of a job interview the next morning are all understandable reasons to wake up tired from time to time. But doing so regularly isn’t good — or normal, for most people. If you’re regularly running low on energy when you wake, there might be something else afoot. So if you ever find yourself Googling “why do I wake up tired?” read on to find out what might be the culprit.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
No surprise, not getting enough sleep may be a prime reason you’re waking up tired. While The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 60 get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, the organization also says that at least one-third of adults are falling short. (1)(2)
Not getting enough sleep due to inconsistent sleep schedules or underlying sleep disorders creates what sleep science calls “insufficient sleep,” says Carleara Weiss, Ph.D., MSH, RN
Sleep Science Advisor for Aeroflow Sleep. “It refers to sleeping less than the recommended hours per age group, having a non-restorative sleep, multiple awakenings during the night, and poor sleep quality. Waking up tired is a common sign of insufficient sleep.”
Sleep inertia is a state of grogginess, impaired cognition, and disorientation that some people experience in their transition from sleep to wakefulness. The duration of sleep inertia varies from person to person, and while studies show that sleep inertia typically begins to wear off after 15 to 30 minutes, (3) full recovery can take as long as an hour.
Acute fatigue is another hallmark of sleep inertia. The condition is not an issue for most people — and it’s a fairly common reason people are still sleepy upon waking — but waking up tired as a result of sleep inertia, could be problematic (even dangerous) for those in certain professions like first responders and medical personnel, as recent studies have shown that cognitive impairment can be equivalent to, or greater than, that observed after up to 40 hours of sleep deprivation. (3)
Lifestyle and Diet
Undoubtedly there are plenty of people who wake up feeling exhausted because they don’t realize that the things they do throughout their day (especially the things they do in the hours leading up to bedtime) can have a profound impact on sleep duration, sleep quality, and ultimately, your morning energy levels. Some of the worst offenders may be using your devices right up to bedtime and not leaning into your chronotype.
Blue Light Exposure
While most of us are guilty of engaging in a little revenge bedtime procrastination, the truth is doom-scrolling way past your bedtime may have a more notable negative impact on sleep than you might initially think. Exposure to blue light from screens and devices can suppress your body’s melatonin production, delivering a substantial blow to your sleep quality and circadian rhythm. (4)
If your sleep schedule doesn’t jibe with your chronotype, you may be setting yourself up for disaster every morning. For example, you might think you’re doing the right thing by hitting the hay promptly at 10 P.M., logging your requisite 8 hours, and waking up at 6 A.M. to get a jump on your day. This schedule is great if you’re a lion chronotype, but if you’re a wolf chronotype (or night owl), this type of sleep schedule is what’s leaving you tired day after day.
Other lifestyle habits that negatively impact sleep quality, leaving you tired when you wake up, include:
- Shift work
- Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Consuming heavy meals close to bedtime
Inconsistent Sleep Schedule
If you have one takeaway here, let this be it: Consistency is key when it comes to sleep. Irregular sleep schedules (like staying up late on Friday nights and sleeping in on the weekends) can disrupt your circadian rhythm, make it harder to achieve restful sleep, and leave you feeling tired when you wake up. Meanwhile, keeping a consistent sleep schedule anchors your sleep, ultimately improving both the quality and quantity. (5)
Challenges With Your Bed Partner
Sharing a bed with someone is great in some ways and not so great in others. While research shows that snoozing next to the one you love is chock full of benefits like better subjective sleep quality, increased sleep duration, improved sleep efficiency, and boosts in total slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, these studies don’t seem to account for a snoring or otherwise restless bedmate. (6)(7)
The fact is, if your partner snores loudly or regularly faces other sleep issues like insomnia — or any host of sleep movement disorders — there’s a good chance your sleep may suffer. And feeling exhausted day after day can quickly become the status quo.
Terry Cralle, MS, RN, and clinical sleep health educator, adds, “Sharing a bed can be a tall order for some. Some like it hot, some like it cold. Your dream mattress is your partner’s nightmare. You need to be up at 5 A.M. for work; they work the night shift — and so it goes.”
If you’re at your wit’s end with your shared sleeping situation, she suggests couples try sleeping apart. Since sleep divorce can have a negative connotation, Cralle instead calls it “independent sleeping.” Whichever term you choose, it may be worth a try. As Cralle says, “A good relationship depends on good sleep.”
Of course, it’s important to note that there are plenty of alternatives worth trying before considering a sleep divorce. The aforementioned benefits alone are worth working through sleep issues with your partner — not to mention the benefits of cuddling and feeling close to one another. The key is just making sure you’re getting the sleep quality and quantity you need.
Believe it or not, hydration matters while you sleep. Not only can dehydration lower your sleep duration and overall quality, but common dehydration symptoms like dry mouth, excessive thirst, and dry nasal passages can further disrupt your sleep, leaving you tired and fatigued in the AM. (8)(9)
Sleep disorders are notorious sleep stealers, and while most people know that sleep apnea and insomnia can leave you feeling tired and fatigued, restless leg syndrome and bruxism can have the same effect.
“Fatigue is a classic sign of insomnia,” says Weiss. (10) “Insomniacs feel tired as a result of difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.” Weiss adds that insomnia and fatigue are so inextricably linked that “Clinicians often ask patients if they wake up feeling refreshed and rested as an investigation for an insomnia diagnosis.”
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep. Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include frequent waking throughout the night and low quality, fragmented sleep — all of which typically result in low energy levels upon waking and daytime fatigue. (11)
Restless Leg Syndrome
“Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is an irresistible urge to move the legs, kick or stretch,” says Weiss. (12) “Symptoms often start soon after laying down to sleep and can last for hours. This type of movement disorder often makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep. As a consequence, people with RLS often feel exhausted the next day.”
Bruxism (or teeth grinding) is a common parasomnia that affects about 13 percent of the population. (13) Weiss tells us that “repetitive movement of masticatory muscles leads to teeth grinding and thrusting the mandibula, and as a result, fatigue is common in people experiencing bruxism.” (14)
Other Conditions that Cause Tiredness
Anemia is a common blood disorder where your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, the end result of which is oxygen-depleted blood. (15) While headaches, dizziness, and leg cramps are hallmarks of the condition, so too are fatigue and consistently waking up tired, even when you’re coming off a good night’s sleep.
Sleep disturbances are par for the course for those with anxiety. And when you’re lying awake ruminating on this, that, and the other, night after night, you’re understandably going to miss out on sleep and wake up feeling tired. Anyone with anxiety likely knows that anxiety and sleep disturbances have a bidirectional relationship — anxiety can cause sleep problems, and sleep problems can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. (16)
Just as anxiety can throw your sleep schedule off track, so too can depression. The most common sleep issues associated with depression are insomnia, delayed sleep onset, fragmented sleep, and reduced sleep efficiency. There’s no lack of evidence that depression and sleep disturbances are inextricably linked, and research shows they share a bidirectional relationship as well. (17)
“A lack of energy and fogginess is a standard description of fatigue in people with
diabetes, particularly if the diabetes is uncontrolled,” says Weiss. And like some of the other sleep disruptors we mentioned earlier, diabetes and sleep are also closely linked. Research shows that diabetes symptoms like (blood sugar fluctuations, depression, and nocturia or frequent night-time urination) can disrupt sleep, while prolonged sleep impairments are a risk factor for diabetes. (18)(19)
Thyroid issues can lead to fatigue and difficulty sleeping. Hyperthyroidism — or an overactive thyroid, is a well-known cause of sleep disturbances. Research shows that as a result of an overactive metabolism and elevated thyroid levels, those with hyperthyroidism often experience delayed sleep latency, short sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. (20)
On the other hand, while common symptoms of hypothyroidism — or underactive thyroid — include low energy, excessive sleepiness, and fatigue due to a decrease in thyroid hormone production, research shows that hypothyroidism often leads to short sleep and poor sleep quality. To make matters worse, Weiss adds that not only does “hypothyroidism increases the risk of OSA, but when left untreated, OSA can double down on symptoms of fatigue that started with hypothyroidism. (20) (21)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
While people with chronic fatigue suffer from abiding fatigue and exhaustion in their daily lives, the issue is often compounded by sleep disturbances associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, including fragmented sleep, unrefreshing sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. (22) If you didn’t see it coming, all of the above could lead to profound feelings of exhaustion in the morning.
Remedies for Waking Up Tired
While a little sleep inertia can’t always be helped — and more serious conditions, like sleep disorders, require medical intervention — if you’re regularly waking up tired and have realized that might have something to do with your bedtime habits, Cralle suggests closely examining your overall sleep hygiene and making changes where necessary.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Make Sleep a Priority
Cralle says, “Putting sleep first is crucial, even if that means adding it to your to-do list. Your sleep schedule should be managed as thoughtfully and deliberately as your daytime schedule.”
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule
“Our body clocks love consistency,” says Cralle. “Ultimately, consistent bed and wake times that accommodate sufficient sleep every day is the goal, so do your best to avoid variability. This means avoiding bedtime procrastination, not hitting the snooze button in the morning.” Cralle also warns against “undersleeping during the week in hopes of oversleeping on the weekends. The goal is to get a sufficient amount of sleep every day of the week.”
Of course, life sometimes gets in the way, but doing your best to stay on a consistent schedule comes with benefits that may just be worth it.
Assess Your Sleep Environment
“Your bedroom should be serene, relaxing, and conducive to a good night’s sleep,” says Cralle. “Optimizing your sleep environment can go a long way toward optimizing your waking hours.”
As you update your sleep environment, Cralle suggests you think about:
- Minimalist furnishings
- Reducing clutter
- Maintaining a dark sleep environment by way of black-out curtains or a sleep mask
- Lowering the temperature in your room
- Addressing noise issues
Establish a Bedtime Routine
“We know that bedtime routines are great for kids, but many adults fail to establish a regular and relaxing bedtime routine or pre-sleep ritual,” which is a mistake, according to Cralle. “A good bedtime routine “helps the mind and body recognize that it is bedtime and to transition from wake to sleep,” she says.
If it’s time for a routine update, Cralle says, “Begin by winding down and relaxing prior to bedtime — forty-five minutes to an hour is optimal, but aim for at least thirty minutes at a minimum. This could include taking a warm shower or bath (lowering your body temperature upon leaving a warm bath is sleep-inducing), reading a book, or doing light stretches.”
If waking up tired has become a normal state of affairs, Cralle says you can also try lifestyle changes such as:
- Cutting caffeine and alcohol in the evenings
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding large meals and heavy or rich foods close to bedtime, including anything fried, carbonated drinks, spicy dishes, and citrus fruits, which can trigger indigestion for some people.
Tips for Easier Wake Ups
“An easy wake-up starts with a bedtime routine and a consistent sleep/wake-up schedule,” says Weiss. After that, “a morning routine with exposure to bright light, exercise, and a good breakfast can help boost and strengthen the circadian function and improve your overall wellness,” she says.
When to See a Doctor
“Sleep is a vital sign,” says Cralle. So, if you made the changes we’ve outlined above to no avail, it may be time to see your doctor. While Cralle notes that people should “address sleep at every healthcare provider encounter, they should absolutely see a sleep specialist if they notice any signs or symptoms of a sleep disorder.”
Should I go back to sleep if I wake up tired?
If you wake up tired, it’s best to get up and go about your day as you normally would. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is key to keeping its quality and quantity at its peak.
Why do I wake up tired even after eight hours of sleep?
Waking up tired after eight hours of sleep could result from any number of factors, ranging from sleep inertia to more serious conditions like an underlying health issue. If you’re consistently tired when you wake up, consider taking your concerns to your healthcare provider.
Why do I wake up with no energy?
If you wake up occasionally with low energy levels, that shouldn’t be much cause for concern. If you regularly wake up with low energy levels, however, you should probably speak with your doctor to rule out a more serious condition, like sleep apnea.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
If you wake up tired in the morning from time to time, the cause may be something simple like having too much fun the night before. If you’re consistently feeling tired when you wake, it could be something a little more complex, like underlying health issues. If you’ve addressed shortcomings in your sleep hygiene and symptoms persist, it may be time to see your doctor.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 14). How much sleep do I need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, February 16). 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html
- Hilditch CJ, McHill AW. Sleep inertia: current insights. Nat Sci Sleep. 2019;11:155-165. Published 2019 Aug 22. doi:10.2147/NSS.S188911
- Wahl S, Engelhardt M, Schaupp P, Lappe C, Ivanov IV. The inner clock-Blue light sets the human rhythm. J Biophotonics. 2019;12(12):e201900102. doi:10.1002/jbio.201900102
- firstname.lastname@example.org, J.-P. C., Dutil, C., Featherstone, R., Ross, R., Giangregorio, L., Saunders, T. J., Janssen, I., Poitras, V. J., Kho, M. E., Ross-White, A., Zankar, S., Carrier, J., Jean-Philippe Chaput email@example.comHealthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, C. H. of E. O. R. I., Caroline DutilHealthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, C. H. of E. O. R. I., Ryan FeatherstoneHealthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, C. H. of E. O. R. I., Robert RossSchool of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Q. U., Lora GiangregorioDepartment of Kinesiology, U. of W., Travis J. SaundersDepartment of Applied Human Sciences, U. of P. E. I., Ian JanssenSchool of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Q. U., … Julie CarrierDépartment de psychologie, U. de M. (2020, October 15). Sleep timing, sleep consistency, and health in adults: A systematic review. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/apnm-2020-0032
- Research article (are we in sync with each other?) exploring the … (n.d.). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315701770_Research_Article_Are_We_in_Sync_with_Each_Other_Exploring_the_Effects_of_Cosleeping_on_Heterosexual_Couples’_Sleep_Using_Simultaneous_Polysomnography_A_Pilot_Study
- Drews, H. J., Wallot, S., Brysch, P., Berger-Johannsen, H., Weinhold, S. L., Mitkidis, P., Baier, P. C., Lechinger, J., Roepstorff, A., & Göder, R. (2020, June 5). Bed-sharing in couples is associated with increased and stabilized REM sleep and sleep-stage synchronization. Frontiers.
- Asher Y Rosinger and others, Short sleep duration is associated with inadequate hydration: cross-cultural evidence from US and Chinese adults, Sleep, Volume 42, Issue 2, February 2019, zsy210, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy210
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Dehydration. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/dehydration.html
- Fietze, I., Laharnar, N., Koellner, V., & Penzel, T. (2021, May 24). The different faces of insomnia. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.683943/full
- Obstructive sleep apnea – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.-a). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459252/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Restless legs syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/restless-legs-syndrome
- Yap AU, Chua AP. Sleep bruxism: Current knowledge and contemporary management. J Conserv Dent. 2016;19(5):383-389. doi:10.4103/0972-0707.190007
- Vlăduțu D, Popescu SM, Mercuț R, et al. Associations between Bruxism, Stress, and Manifestations of Temporomandibular Disorder in Young Students. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(9):5415. Published 2022 Apr 29. doi:10.3390/ijerph19095415
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). What is anemia? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/anemia
- Richards A, Kanady JC, Neylan TC. Sleep disturbance in PTSD and other anxiety-related disorders: an updated review of clinical features, physiological characteristics, and psychological and neurobiological mechanisms [published correction appears in Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Oct 7;:]. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020;45(1):55-73. doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0486-5
- Depression in sleep disturbance: A review on a bidirectional … (n.d.-a). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jcmm.14170
- Khandelwal D, Dutta D, Chittawar S, Kalra S. Sleep Disorders in Type 2 Diabetes. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2017;21(5):758-761. doi:10.4103/ijem.IJEM_156_17
- Tsereteli, N., Vallat, R., Fernandez-Tajes, J. et al. Impact of insufficient sleep on dysregulated blood glucose control under standardised meal conditions. Diabetologia 65, 356–365 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-021-05608-y
- Green ME, Bernet V, Cheung J. Thyroid Dysfunction and Sleep Disorders. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021;12:725829. Published 2021 Aug 24. doi:10.3389/fendo.2021.725829
- Wang L, Fang X, Xu C, et al. Epworth sleepiness scale is associated with hypothyroidism in male patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2022;13:1010646. Published 2022 Nov 16. doi:10.3389/fendo.2022.1010646
- Sapra A, Bhandari P. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Jul 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557676/
- Carleara Weiss, Ph.D., MSH, RN. Email Communication. July 10, 2023.
- Terry Cralle, MS, RN. Email Communication. July 10, 2023.